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Telecom carriers continue push for "D-block" auction Telecom carriers continue push for "D-block" auction

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Telecom carriers continue push for "D-block" auction

Backers of a stagnant FCC proposal for finally providing a cutting-edge communications network for emergency responders continue their 11th-hour push, arguing that the plan is the only viable option in today's economic reality.

A coalition of telecom carriers, and now a few police and firefighter organizations, is lobbying the FCC to resurrect its plan to auction off 10 megahertz of communications spectrum known as the "D-block" and use the proceeds to help fund the construction of an emergency network.

To that end, the group, called Connect Public Safety Now brought in former FEMA Director James Witt Monday to call on lawmakers to give the FCC proposal another look.

Supporters of the FCC plan contend that today's fiscal and political landscape makes it impossible for any government, whether federal, state or local, to spend billions of dollars on the technologically complex data network.

The debate over an exclusive communications network for first responders has raged since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina exposed the limitations of current systems, and Witt said every emergency response he organized was plagued by communications problems.

"When you have kids that have cell phones that have more capability than first responders, that's not acceptable," he told a group of industry lobbyists, congressional staff and journalists at a panel discussion Monday. A new data network could give emergency workers the ability to send data, including video, rather than just talk to each other.

But the Public Safety Alliance, a coalition of public safety associations, denounced Monday's event as simply an effort by the telecom companies to "rebrand" themselves as representatives of public safety organizations.

The Alliance objected to what it called the "blatant misrepresentation that 'Connect Public Safety Now' in any way is crafted for the benefit of public safety, or the public it serves," according to a statement from the group.

Connect Public Safety Now includes T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as other carriers who hope to gain access to more frequencies that would likely be off-limits to AT&T and Verizon if the plan were implemented. They claim that commercial development would provide the needed infrastructure and devices for a public safety system, especially in rural jurisdictions.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski originally proposed a plan to raise an estimated $1.5 billion to $3 billion for the system by selling the D-block to commercial telecom companies, then arranging for network to be used by first responders in an emergency.

But implementation of that proposal has been halted by opposition from the Public Safety Alliance, which wants the D-block given exclusively to emergency responders; a plan that has been backed up by legislation from Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V.

Opponents of that proposal, however, say cash-strapped governments across the country are in no position to pour billions of dollars into developing the network into a viable system.

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The coalition continues to push Genachowski to move forward with his plan as a way to pressure Congress, although Rockefeller's opposition could mean rough sailing in the 112th Congress without significant GOP support.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

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